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The Louvre @ Abu Dhabi: Rain of Sunlight under a Starry Sky-Dome at Sea

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on November 27, 2017 at 02:55 PM

A building proclaimed by Pritzker prize winning septuagenarian architect Jean Nouvel himself as “one of the best works I have been fortunate to achieve” is undoubtedly a gem the world has awaited eagerly. And, the wait was finally over on the 11th of this month when, after the multi-nationally collaborated design and construction period of ten years, this world museum building called the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened to the public. One of its kind worldwide in more ways than one, Abu Dhabi has rented this museum’s name from the original at Paris for a period of 30 years paying 399 million pounds, in addition to several hundred artworks! Here’s exploring the design of this wonder, a French bloom transplanted in the Arabian desert, now referred to as the “Louvre’s outpost at sea”!

© Courtesy of internet resources

It is, on the outside, an expansive cloudy grey, yet glistening, starry parasol that appears to be floating on the sea at Saadiyat island. This is actually the saucer-like dome of 180 meters diameter that covers the distinctly cuboidal structures below of the Louvre Abu Dhabi which can be approached either by road or by boat by visitors from different parts of the world. Here, at this venue located strategically at the meeting point of the West, Asia and Africa, they can observe and appreciate art works and cultural collections from all over the world. It is envisioned that the viewpoint from here, of world history, societies and cultures would neither be western or eastern, a perfect point of confluence.

Jean Nouvel, the architect of this distinguished building, envisioned a cosmic iconography where all the elements would meet, when he conceptualised the huge domical form, a derivative of Arabic architecture nonetheless, sweeping across the entire area of 6,400 square meters of gallery spaces below it. This panoramic dome rests on just four magically imperceptible supporting piers which stand 110 metres apart from each other.

To embody his cosmic vision in this dome, Nouvel has chosen extremely technological looking elements, in fact, what appears from afar like an arrangement of metallic gears across the dome’s surface. These are actually 7,850 star shaped configurations of steel and aluminium extrusions, each one unique in shape and size, arranged in eight layers, four at the bottom and four at the top of the structural steel framework, to cover both surfaces of the dome in the most confounding overlaps.

The magical result of this arrangement is what the architect describes as a ‘moving rain of light’! As the sun moves across the sky through hours, days and seasons, it filters in through this multi-layered design of perforations in a mind-boggling variety of beams, blades and spots of light falling upon the gallery blocks and connecting pathways below in a ‘rain of light’. And, the patterns of this effect aren’t just incidental, but meticulously designed to be as such through years of extensive calculations and a life size mock-up erected on site.

The dome also serves the purpose of climate control by shading the museum from the harsh Arabian sun, reducing interior energy consumption letting in the optimum amount of daylight to maintain an ambient atmosphere which is comfortable for both, the visitors and the art-works. The breeze blowing in over the surrounding sea-water further cools the place, and creates a connection with another dimension of nature. Within this micro-climate of the starry cosmos, of rain, of light, of earth, wind and sea, the elemental fusion is complete, offering an instant reference to visitors arriving at the museum from any climatic region of the world.

Under this cosmic dome, the 55 gallery blocks of emphatically cuboidal formations in pristine white are arranged in an unaligned organic manner to mimic a traditional Arab settlement. A visitor traverses the by lanes and courtyards thus formed which are cooled by the sea breeze, shaded by the dome and also artistically bedecked, to move between the internally air-conditioned gallery spaces consisting of  exhibitions, children’s museum, auditorium and restaurant, bathed in the magical play of light. Even critics of the project have marvelled at the way Jean Nouvel has created a design that breaks away from the mandatory complete air-conditioning that all buildings in the gulf have to adopt to beat the harsh sun by whipping up this domed space that responds so well in all senses to its context.

Even more awe-inspiring than this wonderland are the inputs and processes that went into its creation. All stages of construction, like building a foundation and basement with concrete well-guarded from invading sea waters by wiring it with a cathodic protection system, constructing a sea-wall to prevent sea-water from flowing into the site till construction was completed and then removing the wall to let the water in, or lifting the massive 7000 ton (almost the weight of the Eiffel Tower) completed dome off the temporary supporting pillars and placing it on the huge bearings topping the four permanent piers, were individual super challenges. These were made achievable only with the help of the latest technology of all categories available in the world today and superior real time coordination across continents. To quote one of the engineers in-charge, would have been impossible to build even twenty years ago. So, in all senses, the 3 billion pound Louvre Abu Dhabi is a building of the present time and place, a gift for future generations to experience and enjoy

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is also clearly a venue that competes in being as preciously artistic as the works within. Curated by Jean-Luc Martinez, it has acquired art works, archaeological finds, neoclassical sculptures, contemporary installations and others for display since 2009, many as loans from other cultural institutions. Working closely with Atelier Jean Nouvel and the Louvre Abu Dhabi team, artists Guiseppe Penone and Jenny Holzer have developed site specific sculptures and installations to display at various locations foyers and passages.

With a view to make Abu Dhabi the cultural hub of the world, a plethora of new development has been planned in and around it by the Emirates administration that includes a trio of museums, cultural performance centres, universities and others. The best talent form around the world has been hired to bring this to fruition, including five Pritzker prize winning architects like Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel. The beginning has been made by the Louvre, there is a lot more to follow from the riches of Arabia.

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